Award-winning choral conductor and Queens College alum Harold Rosenbaum made his mark as a 23-year-old leading his first choral group in performance at Carnegie Hall. The debut of the young maestro received rave reviews in the New York Times.
While he was associate conductor of a Queens College choir and completing his master’s degree, “I realized I needed to start my own chorus, to have my own instrument,” recalls Harold Rosenbaum ’72, ’74 MA. Shortly after graduation, he advertised for amateur singers for his new chamber choir, the Canticum Novum Singers, now entering year 39 of presenting early music and works from other periods. Renting Carnegie Recital Hall for their first concert “was brazen for a 23-year-old,” he realizes. From that first New York Times rave review in 1973 has risen a crescendo of acclaim.
With his baton, Rosenbaum leads both renowned soloists and amateurs up dizzying choral heights. Over four decades, he has sounded these high notes: choral conductor with 450-plus world premières and more than 1,500 concerts . . . founder of six choral groups . . . currently associate professor of music at the University of Buffalo . . . faculty member at his alma mater (1972-1998) . . . taught at the Juilliard School . . . namesake of the choral music series of the world’s largest music publisher, G. Schirmer Music . . . longtime organist and choir director at St. Luke’s Episcopal Church in Katonah, New York.
Unlike almost any other American choral conductor, Rosenbaum “is not scared stiff of anything offbeat,” notes Allen Brings ’55, composer, pianist, and QC professor emeritus of music (1963-2002). “He is limitless in his energy.”
Contemporary choral composers—from the sadly neglected to prizewinners—find in Rosenbaum and his New York Virtuoso Singers the finest of friends. This professional chamber choir, which he founded in 1988, is undaunted by their most complex compositions.
“Music was in my blood,” Rosenbaum observes about growing up in Flushing. A pop pianist when he came to campus, “I didn’t know any classical music,” he recalls. “To say that Queens College was a rigorous course of study is an understatement. I loved every minute of it. It opened up a world of music.”
Remaining at QC for a master’s in choral conducting, he organized a prep chorus. No one expected it to give concerts. With ecumenical enthusiasm, the grad student brought together the QC Preparatory Choir, Transfiguration Lutheran Church Choir of Harlem, and Westchester Jewish Choral Society (which he also founded). Not on campus. In Carnegie Hall. And to perform Haydn’s Creation.
His bio doesn’t even mention the 75 high school clinics he has given. “I’m very parental. I love passing on wisdom and guidance to the young,” he says warmly. He and his wife, Edie, have two daughters and two grandchildren.
In 1983 while studying in London, Rosenbaum went to hear Brahms’s Requiem. Transfixed during the soprano solo about Paradise, he had a vision of their son Joshua’s soul “carried aloft in a ray of light,” he recalls. “I heard the next morning that he had died. He was my best friend.” Joshua, age 11, had accidentally touched a power line on a Long Island beach. That fall, while directing the Queens College Choir and Orchestra, Rosenbaum somehow got through the same requiem, which he had scheduled to conduct the previous spring. As he movingly stated at Commencement last May, “Though the pain never goes away, the desire to survive with dignity and the need to do good deeds, and to make people happy, in my case through music, drive me forward and sustain me.”
Hidden talent: Drawing. Two from his teenage days—of his father, a musician, and a colored pencil copy of Rubens’s The Lion Hunt—hang on his wall.
Favorite books: He would love to re-read childhood favorites: Moby-Dick, Sherlock Holmes, Charles Dickens among them. But mostly, “I devour musical scores.”